"I am sorry Miss Lovell, I cannot accept your leadership position...I am not 18." This is what a 15-year-old volunteer told me when I offered her a position as a regional manager for my national program My Clean City.
Many would be surprised to hear these words spoken, however in my experience this is a common thought that crosses the minds of young people on a daily basis, whether consciously or not. In today's world, youth increasingly lack confidence in their capabilities and role within community. Many doubt their ability to lead and are taught that successful leadership and responsibility come either with a completed education, a successful job and/or certain age milestones. These views are not held just by youth themselves but also by our larger community. Young people are seen as inexperienced and we question their ability to handle responsibility. It doesn't hurt that increasingly our generation of youth are being referred to as the "me" generation; self-centred and unpredictable.
Yet what society doesn't realize is the very traits we try to condemn our young generation for is exactly what makes them ideal leaders of change. Rather than self-centred, youth are individualized and are not afraid to break the norm and be their own person. Their unpredictable nature is coined from their honesty and courage to point out the obvious and speak out against what is wrong. In other words, youth are not yet jaded by society and are able to challenge the status quo; they have an innate ability to see the world without the common lens and envision new possibilities. When channeled these qualities make an incredible leader full of passion and innovation. The problem remains helping young people realize their potential and see the leaders they truly are or can become in their communities.
How can youth overcome the doubt community and they themselves cast upon each other as young change leaders? No stereotype comes without its ambassadors and I understand that there are many individuals out there that may justify the claims to the "me" generation. However, it is a matter of shifting focus away from this small percentage and opening our eyes up to the rest of the population of bright young leaders who want to make a difference.
In all my experiences I have, in fact, never met a generation more inclined to give back, get involved and create impact than our millennials. There are more overt youth ambassadors that are embracing their voice that we see today like Malala Yousafzai; but there are also thousands of youth using their voice on a daily basis that go unnoticed. I personally know of a nine-year-old girl who calls herself a shark warrior and is advocating to save our oceans. I have met a 13-year-old girl who has developed the world's first "intelligent antibiotic," a 15-year-old that has fundraised half a million dollars for charity starting from a lemonade stand, and countless youth that have founded their own charities and businesses to address social issues and prompt both local and global change.
Perspective is everything and more awareness needs to be brought to the positive contribution of our youth generation. This starts by giving them a chance to show the world what they are capable of. There is no age restriction or requirement for leadership. If you simply look around your community or research some of the contributions youth are providing our world you will understand. Youth underestimate their potential and it is only by giving them a chance to have responsibility as a community leader that they will learn otherwise. Our world is in great need of social change and it is through our young leaders that this change is already coming.
Youth are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today and it is time the communities and youth themselves realize this!